Seasonal Stupidity Surrounding the Southie St. Patrick’s Day Parade Continues

The parade has come and gone, but the drama over LGBT inclusion continues. Spinning at the center of it all: rainbow umbrellas.

We are now into spring, and yet the seasonal stupidity surrounding the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade has not ended. Rather, over the weekend it ascended new summits. You may recall that there were strong attempts this year to shield the parade’s historic idiocy behind a mirage of inclusiveness.

As I write this, earnest and learned people are jousting over umbrellas. I suspect this will not prove to be the apex of dumbness associated with this year’s parade.

Where to even begin describing the dopiness?

For many years the Allied War Veterans Council (AWVC)—the South Boston group that runs the parade—has refused to allow openly LGBT-affiliated organizations to march. The Veterans also maintain vehemently that anyone who says they don’t allow gays to march is a liar—thereby purporting a fiction of non-bigotry, similar to the old claims about poll taxes and literacy tests. Last year, for example, AWVC leader Philip Wunschke explained to the media that he keeps gay groups out for the same reason he keeps out white supremacist groups. So, not super-offensive at all.

That fiction continued on Friday, when AWVC commander Brian Mahoney wrote a post-parade column for the website South Boston Today. I’ll try to paraphrase, but don’t bother trying to follow along. First of all, Mahoney said, the Veterans had never banned gays in the first place. But if they had let gays into the parade—which they didn’t have to, because they were never banned—well, that was an accident. An accident that the gays repaid by rudely opening some colored umbrellas.

To be clear: The Veterans are spouting nonsense. They have been spouting nonsense for years. And yet, the parade’s ban on gay groups has sometimes seemed less obsessed with who is shtupping whom, and more to do with a very particular Bostonian stubbornness. The AWVC folks are clearly bigots, but even more than that, the greatest obstacle to getting gays into the parade is that they don’t want anybody to tell them who to let into their parade. Lest you think this stubbornness is merely an Irish thing, behold Boston’s LGBT activists, who have won the cultural war but refused to shrug off this small-minded act of exclusion—and instead have insisted on beating the old homophobes on this one last playing field.

Behind the scenes, everyone has long understood that there is a practical solution to this charade, and that it lies in finding a way for the AWVC to okay an LGBT group to march—but without looking like they are capitulating to anyone.

Which meant that when Marty Walsh brokered a deal this year to let a gay-veterans’ group into the parade—thus allowing Marty to end the Boston mayor’s decades-long boycott of the parade that bans gays—there was one unspoken rule: Nobody should take credit for, or gloat about, getting the Veterans to let the gays in. (The deal almost got done last year, but certain people couldn’t keep their mouths shut, and went blabbing to Billy Baker of the Globe, and next thing you know both sides were sulking separately on yet another St. Patrick’s Day.) By now, there’s almost a script: Everybody involved in this careful diplomacy has to pretend that the AWVC isn’t really changing its policy, but that the gays were finally Doing The Process Correctly—an excuse tantamount to blacks pretending the poll taxers’ hearts were in the right place all along.

Gross. Gross and stupid. But, at least, a potential end to the nonsense. Right?

There was a time, some 20 years ago, when all this seemed to matter—because it was a really big deal to not be a gay-basher in South Boston. Today, the homophobes are the pariahs, even in that traditionally-boneheaded enclave. So much so that it’s hard to believe an event run by gay-haters is widely attended, corporate sponsored, and benignly covered by the press. There are Star Wars Stormtroopers marching in the streets, for heaven’s sake. Substitute “Jew-haters” or “black-haters” and try to imagine this happening without outrage.

So why? Why the great efforts to find a way for people to feel OK marching in the haters’ parade?

Let me put it very simply, and crassly, in hopes that others will take this lesson to heart: if Roxbury’s black voters showed up as reliably as Southie’s Irish voters, pols like Walsh would be trying to negotiate a way to march in an annual Black Power parade down Warren Avenue.

In any event, this year the charade worked. Some veterans—well, not just “some veterans,” but in fact a veteran who works in a significant position under Mayor Walsh—formed a group last fall called OUTVETS. Now, mind you, OUTVETS is definitely not extant exclusively for the purpose of solving the AWVC problem—that would be an unseemly use of military credentials—though, oddly, it doesn’t seem to have many functions other than, well, marching quietly in the Southie parade without acting too gay. With that entity in place, some of the more moderate AWVC leaders who wanted to get this whole banning-gays controversy behind them managed to out-maneuver the more stubborn ones—in parliamentary shenanigans that allegedly rivaled the subterfuges of the old Soviet dumas—and the deed was done. Gays. In. The. Parade.

And there was much rejoicing. Hooray! cried our local pols to our local newspapers, we can all now participate in the gay-haters event!

Ah, but the stupidity was just beginning.

Some six weeks after the AWVC voted to let OUTVETS march, Boston Pride decided to risk upsetting this carefully negotiated arrangement by daring to be gay and also submit an application to march. Then, in what appeared to be a show of mind-boggling openness and toleration, that application was approved. Then, as you recall, there was a parade, and Pride marched in it. It actually happened!

On Friday, however, the AWVC bigots wanted to make perfectly clear that this was not an act of openness and toleration.

No, they would much rather you understand that they are blathering morons than for you to mistake them for reasonable, accepting people. And so it was that commander Brian Mahoney made a point of writing, to a South Boston audience, that the approval of Boston Pride’s application was a mistake. Shocked, SHOCKED he was to discover that Boston Pride was even a gay group at all, since its application failed to disclose this critical fact. Although remember there is no ban on gay groups; that’s not what this is about. But the group wouldn’t have been allowed to march if AWVC realized it was so gay.

Mahoney claims that the application reviewer assumed that Boston Pride was merely an offshoot of—wait for it—Boston Strong.

This might seem beyond the realm of plausibility, but to be fair, I doubt that it has ever occurred to Mahoney that someone could be proud of being gay.

So here’s Boston Pride, an accidental inclusion in the gay-haters’ event, knowing that the event organizers are already angry about their presence, and that a carefully arranged truce is in danger of crumbling at the slightest flaunting of, well, LGBT pride.

So naturally, what you want to do is show up with a whole bunch of rainbow umbrellas that were specifically not mentioned in your very detailed application, which also forgot to mention that you are gay and not just proud of being from Boston.

At this point, if you are someone who is not insane, you might think: Who cares? Gay people in Boston with rainbow umbrellas? That’s not a parade: That’s Tuesday. Hell, they weren’t even Pride rainbow umbrellas, technically. Just, by pure coincidence, a bunch of rainbow umbrellas. That happens, right?

But here we must be guided not by the rules of real life but the bizarro-Boston rules of the Southie parade, to which—by submitting an application and agreeing to march—the members of Boston Pride had for some reason given their tacit approval.

I am told by two people close to these activists that there was a specific pre-march discussion, among the Boston Pride members, about the importance of not opening those umbrellas during the parade. I am also told that for much of the parade, when the major media cameras were not trained on Boston Pride, those umbrellas remained closed.

In the social media world, we have a term for opening those umbrellas. That word is “trolling.” Trolling feels really good for the troller. It rarely leads to the trolled treating the trollers better.

In a surprise to absolutely nobody who has any familiarity with the aggressively grouchy Mahoney—who, nevertheless, is at best the third most offensive high-ranking AWVC crank—the umbrellas have provoked a churlish response. Mahoney is pissed about the umbrellas. No: Really, really pissed about the umbrellas. And now threatening to go back to banning the gays again, although of course they never banned the gays, but you know.

Pols, including Walsh and Congressman Steve Lynch, have come out publicly in defense of the umbrellas, in a show of what I imagine they see as great moral clarity and political courage.

When all these pols—lots of them marching for the first time—leaped at the chance to join the parade this year, they presumably believed that all the gay-hating had been cleansed from the event’s leaders. How surprised they must be—shocked, SHOCKED—to find out that’s not quite true.

You certainly will not find many pols who are publicly calling the AWVC leaders awful homophobes, or suggesting that anyone should boycott the parade as long as that’s true. Again: Southie bigots vote.

But a few of those politicians are willing to stand Boston Strong for the rainbow umbrellas. So keep hoping, umbrellas. Your kind will one day be able to unfurl without shame on Broadway.

Or maybe not. Who knows what these idiots will do?